Dainti Delischia: A South African drag legend passes on


Dainti at the 2008 Pink Loerie parade

Legendary South African drag performer, Charles Whiley, better known as Dainti Delischia, has died suddenly at the age of 78 in Cape Town.

The much-loved Dainti always stood out with her caricature drag style: huge eyelashes, blue eyeshadow, painted on rosebud lips and, of course, her impressive wig (said to have been made of three wigs sown together.)

Born to a conservative family (his father was magistrate of Clanwilliam), Whiley always dreamed of being in the theatre. It was a dream he fulfilled thanks to iconic theatre star and impresario Joan Brickhill, with whom he worked.

He also credited choreographer Carlo Spetto for convincing him to drag.

“Then suddenly I was popular after all. In fact I was the centre of attention where I went which also filled my theatrical ambitions and of course stroked my ego a bit,” Whiley told Gay Flag Of South Africa’s Eugene Brockmann.

The unlikely-named Dainti is believed to have first made a public appearance during the Million Dollar Golf Tournament at the Sun City Superbowl in the 1980s.

She became a gay scene staple; performing at venues, appearing at Pride parades and going on to be dubbed “the mother of South African drag” and even “the oldest drag queen in South Africa.”

Dainti often worked as an MC and was known for her witty comebacks. One of her famous lines was: “More men have gone down on me than went down on the Titanic.”

In July 2004, Dainti reached her biggest audience yet when she appeared in a special drag edition of the popular Weakest Link quiz show on SABC3.


Charles Whiley (Pic: Facebook)

Whiley was also a writer for LGBT newspaper Exit, with a theatre and social column that he submitted for 12 years.

Exit Editor Gavin Hayward said that Whiley last performed as Dainti about five years ago and had recently announced his retirement from his column.

“He had a significant impact in that other drag performers went on to copy him. He was larger than life and out and proud,” commented Hayward.

John French, who starred with Whiley in the 90s drag review Dainti and The Titbits, told Mambaonline: “Charles grew up under the constraints of a very homophobic South Africa of the early 20th century and therefore really appreciated the freedom of expression we enjoy today. The outspoken Dainti was his alter ego and it protected a rather shy and gentle man.”

He added: “Charles played a huge part in leading the gay community from the 1990s onwards and we owe him his respected place in gay South African history.”

Speaking to Brockmann, Whiley said: “I wish that when I was young, gayness was more accepted like it is today. Instead of all the tears we went through… and all the ridicule.”

He went on to say: “My sincerest wish for our gay SA is that we should all be accepted. Just as race should not affect one’s social standing, neither should your sexuality.”

Whiley died on Tuesday at home. He leaves behind a brother and nephews in Canada. His Facebook page has been flooded with messages from grieving friends and fans.

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